Analysis of Senate Bill 747, Edition 3
Summary: Senate Bill 747 Editions 2 & 3, made substantive but not positive changes from the original version of the bill. Edition 3 passed out of the Senate on June 21 and is now awaiting the House docket. It adds a few improvements that might marginally benefit election integrity in the state; however, it regrettably reverses or reduces the effectiveness of a few worthy provisions found in Edition 1, and it continues to omit vitally important loophole closures that will allow ballot, voter, and election fraud to occur in our state. The notes below provide a few of the more important deficiencies of the current edition of this bill, which has crossed over to the House.
Section 4 (addressing NCGS 163-45)
This section specifies that poll observers may serve more than one four-hour tour of duty in the same day. NCEIT supports the essence of this language, as it helps clarify that statutory intent allows for citizens to serve as long a period as those volunteers may desire, on any day of the election cycle. However, this section fails to address vitally important poll observer clarifications needed in Chapter 163-45 of the general statutes- a major shortcoming. Current poll observer provisions in 163-45 are interpreted differently all over the state, sometimes differently at precincts within the same counties. House Bill 772 provides the many clarifications needed to enable poll observers to perform their duties without interdiction by overzealous election officials, fulfilling the spirit and intent of NCGS 163-45 as originally envisioned by the General Assembly. These clarifications are desperately needed to avert a repeat of the thousands of reported conflicts during the 2020 and 2022 election cycles in NC, some of which ended in threats, disrespectful behavior, and ill-advised ejections of poll observers from polling sites. NCEIT believes the authors of S747 should incorporate the language of H772 to substantially improve this section of the S747 and measurably enhance election integrity operations across the state. Alternatively, if H772 can pass independently through House and Senate, then it can successfully complement S747.
Section 6 (addressing NCGS 163-82.6B)
This section pertains to same-day registration (SDR), specifying that same day registrants must be issued provisional ballots (rather than regular ballots) only if the registrants do not possess a photo ID or a proof of residence. This alters the provisions of S747 Edition 1 in which ALL same day registrants had to be issued provisional ballots, regardless of their supporting documents. Applying the logic of Editions 2 and 3 makes the SDR provision superfluous at best- the law already requires issuance of a provisional ballot to any voter who presents on election day who has not already registered to vote with both a photo ID and proof of residence. At worst, this provision allows SDRs to register during early voting without any proof of identification or residence; neither of which is permitted under current law. NCEIT believes the language in Edition 3 is a giant leap backwards and induces greater vulnerability for NC election fraud than is present today in Chapter 163 of the general statutes. This section must be changed to reflect that ALL same day registrants will be issued a provisional ballot and are subject to address verification by mail.
Section 17 (addressing NCGS 163-227.6)
Edition 1 of S747 established the requirement for all early voting sites to be staffed with election officials (particularly Chief Judges and Judges) providing partisan representation during all polling operations. This edition of the same bill removes the requirement that Board of Election early voting sites must have Judges and Chief Judges. The requirement for Chief Judges and Judges, and for partisan parity in staffing early voting sites MUST be the same as is required for precincts on election day if election integrity is to be maintained. NCEIT is opposed to this language in Edition 3. Board of Election sites are no less vulnerable to partisan election manipulation than other early voting sites. We suggest using instead the language from S747, Edition 1 requiring partisan election official representation at all early voting sites with clarification as to which election officials are being addressed (Chief Judges, Judges, and Assistants).
Section 20 (addressing NCGS 163-230.1)
This section now alters the absentee ballot acceptance provisions of NCGS 163-203.1, by allowing the curing of unsatisfactory absentee ballots all the way up until the day before canvas. This stands in stark contrast to other provisions in S747, which require all ballots to be received and be accepted as of 7:30pm on election day. NCEIT disagrees with this vague and inconsistent language on multiple counts. First, all absentee ballots ought to be received and acceptable by 7:30pm on election day. It is illogical to turn away an in-person voter that presents 1 minute after poll closure, denying him the ability to vote, when absentee voters who mailed in unacceptable container-return envelopes just prior to poll closure are given the extended ability to “cure” their envelopes – even by email - for ballot acceptance right up until canvass, nine days after poll closure. Moreover, this new provision does not clearly allow election observers or members of the public to review and challenge ineligible absentee ballot container-return envelopes at the time the local Board of Elections is making its determination to accept and scan those ballots. In summary, absentee ballot container-return envelopes ought to be received (and cured, if required) by 7:30pm on election day if they are to be counted. Moreover, all container return envelopes ought to be inspectable on demand and challengeable for good cause until the day prior to canvass.
Section 30(e) List Maintenance (addressing NCGS 163-82.14)
Voter List maintenance is addressed in some detail in Section 30(e) of the bill, but principally only increases the frequency of list maintenance operations and provides a process for identifying and removing some non-citizens. The provision fails to instruct boards of elections to accept citizen documentation for investigation of known ineligible registrants and duplicate entries. (The NCSBE has ordered local boards not to accept these citizen inputs.) NCEIT believes it essential that local BOEs should welcome affidavits and other documents that verify improper registration or duplicate entries on the voter list and then initiate action to remove improperly registered and duplicated voters.
Not addressed in Senate Bill 747, Edition 3:
The NCEIT Team has repeatedly requested and documented several other statutory changes needed to establish proper controls of the voter registration and election processes, provisions that are essential for eliminating loopholes that lead to ballot, voting, and election fraud. This Omnibus Elections Bill (S747, Edition 3) fails to address the following important election integrity challenges:
(A) Clarification of Poll observer authority and responsibility, and poll observer permitted activities during early voting and at precincts on election day. House Bill 772 provides a very good set of clarifications and should be incorporated into any Omnibus elections bill. Failing these clarifications our future elections will be fraught with conflicts stemming from varying interpretations of state election law.
(B) Access to voted ballots remains impermissible in NC, even though those voted records are accessible to the public in 28 other states. House Bill 770 effectively describes the requirement to make cast vote records (CVRs) available without compromise of any voter’s privacy. These CVRs are essential for restoring voter confidence in election outcomes and will be needed to conduct future post-election audits effectively. House Bill 770 should be rolled into any Omnibus elections bill.
(C) Prohibition of Bar Codes on Absentee Ballot Request Forms was removed in Editions 2 and 3 of S747. The creates the grand opportunity for widespread ballot harvesting and election fraud – a serious loophole in NC election law. During the 2020 election cycle, hundreds of thousands of privately generated ballot request forms – some pre-populated with voter information – were sent to prospective voters all over NC. These forms were bar coded so the USPS could report back to the originating 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations which voters were preparing to vote by mail- inconsistent with the intent of the General Assembly in that no one is supposed to know which voters are voting absentee until the votes have been submitted. Non-profits are actively targeting and recruiting left-leaning voters using this loophole. In short, the only way to stop the practice to prohibit non-governmental organizations from placing bar codes on privately-generated ballot request forms.